Wow! I know I know it’s been a long time!

Ok sorry for the massive lack of updates.  I’ve had month after month of crazy amounts of work and then just haven’t had the energy to sit down and write something interesting.

It doesn’t help that I couldn’t actually think of many interesting things to talk about seeing as we haven’t been able to make any films for a while.

I was thinking about maybe talking about animation techniques or VFX techniques but didn’t want to stray too much from the actual core part of making films.  If you feel this might be of some interest then I’m more than happy to oblige?

I have decided one thing over the last few months and that is to scrap the part of 22 days later where by we have to use a costume, phrase and prop from our viewers.  It’s not that I didn’t like some of the ideas that we pulled out the hat. After all without them we wouldn’t of had the insane films we’ve made so far.  But to be honest we just weren’t getting enough ideas coming in and at the moment I’ve got quite a few short films I’d really just like to make without random input.

Maybe one day I’ll add that part back in but for now I’m going with just making a film in 22 days. If I get an influx of complaints then I will consider bringing that part back.

Although it has been pretty much work, work; work these past few months – by the way I can’t believe it’s been over 2 months since my last post; we did manage to shoot a short film.

The idea was to enter a short horror in a competition called: Short Cuts to Hell.  Unfortunately we left it far to late – the night before, and so had to make up the story, film it and edit it in around eight hours.

It actually came out ok, the only problem was that one of the rules of the competition was that the film couldn’t be more than three minutes. Our film no matter how we tried to cut it came in at around four minutes.  So we decided to call it quits.

I have decided to that it would be a shame to just leave it and so over the next few weeks I’ll finish it off and see what we get.

Here is a still. It’s worth noting that because there was only two of us we didn’t bother with any lighting and just used what we had in the room…which is why it looks a little bland.

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In till next time – hopefully not two months.

Peter

All great films should start with a great story, or should they?

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I hear this a lot.  A great film starts with a great story, or script. If you haven’t got a great story then no matter how good your actors are, no matter how good your sets are and no matter how good your effects are, your film is going to suck!

I agree with this… to a certain extent.  BUT,  I don’t think a great film starts with a great story and I don’t think it’s the most important part of the film.  For me, the most important part of a film and something that I feel is the absolute key to why some films become classics and some films just don’t, isn’t the story at all, it’s the CHARACTERS!

And even go as far to say that you don’t need a great story to have a great film. But if you haven’t got great characters then you’re film isn’t going to be too interesting to watch no matter how gripping the story is meant to be.

Lets look at an example. How about Star Wars!

This film is classed as a classic,  95% of the people I know love this film.  There are a few that wouldn’t place it in their top and actually a couple that haven’t even seen it, but they’re just weird. Overall I think it’s safe to say that Star Wars is a classic film. But why?  Is it the story, after all if story is so important than surely if you read the screenplay without knowing anything about the film beforehand would you’d be blown away.  Well in the case of Star Wars the screenplay isn’t exactly on par with Citizen Kane. For starters the films called Star Wars.  Now this is so etched into out culture that it’s hard to separate ourselves from the words, a bit like Coca Cola or Mc donalds.  But just for a moment try and see that title as if you’d never heard of it before, STAR WARS.  It may just be me but honestly that’s an awful title, straight away it screams B-Movie!

So what about the story?

I won’t go into the story as, lets face it everyone knows what it’s about and if you don’t, well where have you been for the last 37 years? But to sum up. a farm boy goes on a mission to battle the evil empire. Along the way he meets a smuggler and some droids.  He falls in love with a girl, follows his dream of becoming a rebel fighter and destroys something called “The Death Star” (another awful name).

I’m actually surprised that Star Wars got green lit and I believe that if it wasn’t for the great characters in that film it would of been a flop. Don’t believe me?  I think one only has to look at the Phantom Menace to see how a very similar film can fall flat on it’s face.  Yes the story wasn’t great or as simple as Star Wars but I believe what really let that film down was the characters.  Apart from R2D2 and C3PO I don’t think there was one character in that film that I cared for, or believed.

So lets take a look at what made the character in Star Wars so good.  Well this goes back to something I’ve spoken to before and it’s a rule that all forms of art need to contain, so as not to be BORING and that’s contrast. If you don’t have contrast you have bland.

Contrast in characters can come in many shapes and forms.  It can literally be their shape, BIG and small, or their voices LOUD and quiet or speed FAST and Slow.  They could also have contrast in their behavior, maybe they’re always really angry but ever so often get very scared.

All of the characters in Star Wars are rich with contrast. Either within themselves or up against each other.  Each character brings something unique.  Luke is very loyal and driven.  Han is very gun-ho and easy come, easy go. Leia is very feisty and independent. C3PO is a worrier and quite feeble.  R2D2 is fearless. There’s also contrast in C3PO and R2D2’s size that gives them a very Laural and Hardy feel.  I could go on but hopefully you get the idea.

Now if we look at The Phantom Menace we have lots of characters who I honestly can’t remember the names of.  This in itself proves how forgettable they were.  It’s unfair to say that didn’t have personalities but they were so bland that it was hard to have interest in any of them.  No contrast in characters equals no chemistry between them.  If the characters are basically cardboard cut outs then why should we care if they live or die. The story could have the best twists and the biggest obstacles for the characters to overcome but if we don’t care for those characters then it means nothing.

You see this problem a lot in horrors.  The biggest problem with horrors is that the ratio of cost verses profit is so good that Hollywood loves to churn them out.  This is great in that there’s more horrors and I do love horror. The problem is that most horrors are seen as a way of making a quick buck and so character and story go out the window.  When this happens you also loose the horror. It doesn’t matter how scary the monster is, or how many jump scares there are, if I don’t care about the characters then it’s not scary.

If when watching a horror the characters are so bad, I find myself actually willing the monster to catch them and hopefully kill them in the most entertaining and horrific way.  On a side note, for me, one of the quickest ways to kill a characters believability is to get them to say or do something that no one in their right mind would do, or that’s just completely out of character.  Now I know sometimes the story has to be driven forward but I’d rather the story was a bit slower with great characters, than fast with really bad ones.

Another classic example of a film that could of been bad if it wasn’t for the characters and Directors vision, is Alien. When this was written no studio would touch it.  They felt it was a really bad B-movie but at the same time Star Wars had been released and 20th Century Fox needed something to keep the ball rolling and so they took it on.  Here’s a great documentary if you’re interested.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TNjpb8O5LY

After many re-writes they felt it was just about good enough to go ahead but they didn’t have much faith in it.  It was Ridley Scott who at the time was a very new Director, that had the vision to take the film and make it feel as real as possible.  If it wasn’t for the solid acting and the depth of the  characters,  Alien would have been a very different film and probably a very poor one.

I feel so strongly that characters are the key to a great film that I’d almost go to the point of saying you don’t need a story to keep people watching. Take Big Brother, ok so this is reality TV so slightly different but people will quite happily sit and watch an hour of other people walking around a house, shouting at each other.

Now it could be argued that there is a story because certain people form friendships, there are rivalry and scheming all of which are keys to a story.  But if we look at story in the traditional sense then Big Brother has none.  The biggest hook is that they’re real people, we know that the feelings they have are real. Now the producers of Big Brother aren’t stupid and they don’t just put a lot of boring, similar people together, after all where’s the fun in that and more importantly where is the contrast?  So what you get in Big Brother is a mixture of people from all walks of life with very different personalities. Some loud, some quite, some confrontational and some diplomatic.  That is why we watch and it has very little to do with story.

Of course if you have great characters that the audience believes in and you then put them in difficult situations, placing obstacles in their way,  that’s when your story becomes gripping.  But without those real characters, the story is just an empty container.

I’d love to know other peoples opinions on this so drop me a comment or a mail.

Till next time,

Peter

 

 

 

 

Ouch…not really

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In this blog I thought I’d continue on some of the techniques used in visual effects.

A lot of effects in movies are actually 2d mapped onto environments or 2d images used to hide unwanted items.  They’re also used to replace things like posters and number plates.

In my last blog I talked about the effects of creating the rabbit, the rabbit was one of the 3D effects in the film.  There aren’t that many 3D effects used in The Great Spielron but I had to use 3D for one of the more gruesome scenes where some of our characters get a knife in their heads.

I’ll break down one of these shots,  it’s where Katie throws the knife and it hits Mike square in the forehead.

When deciding the best approach for an effect I think it’s always best to ask the question “can this be done on set with real practical effects?” If the answer is yes then I always think this is the best approach as it doesn’t matter how good the effect is in CG, it’s never as good as a real prop.

Obviously for this particular shot that required a knife to be thrown, the answer was most definitely “no” we can’t use a real knife…well not unless we didn’t need our actor anymore, but we did so we decided it was best not to really kill him.   So the choice was to do it in CG (computer graphics).

This actually posed a problem when filming, as I realised we couldn’t even use a proxy object when Katie goes to stab Kevin in the head as even something soft like a foam knife would still hurt if it hit you in the eye.  So I had get them to act and react with nothing at all. It also didn’t help that it was about 12:00am and so we had about 10 minutes to wrap up the whole end scene. Everything in that last part of the movie was finished in about 15 minutes.  We just went handheld and tried to get as much shots as we could. Anyway I’m digressing.

Now on a big budget film there would be time set aside for the VFX supervisor to take measurements and measure lighting info, using things like a big chrome ball and a big grey ball.  You sometimes see these on the making of movies.  Basically what these do is allow the VFX artist to work out where the light is coming from and how intense it is.  By taking photos at different exposures they can then put this information into the computer and the lighting they get is pretty accurate to what was on set.  It also allows them to have reflections that match too, so the whole CG elements fit to the environment.

We didn’t have time to do this, I brought the chrome ball but we were so rushed that it never got used, I had to rely on my eyes to try and get the knife to match the real footage as best as possible.

One issue with using 3D elements is you can’t use the more basic technique of using 2D trackers to match the 3D element.  If you don’t know about 2D tracking you can view one of my latest blogs about it here https://22dayslater.com/2014/05/19/its-all-in-the-eyes-the-zombie-eyes/

Actually that’s not completely true.  If the camera isn’t moving around the object too much then you’d get away with this, which is something we did for out low budget one day horror that you can see here   Because the real footage was being seen from a pretty flat on view I knew that I could use a 2D track to basically “tack” the 3D animation to a point on the screen.

But for the shot of Matt, his head moves quite a bit and we see it from quite a few angles, so I knew the knife would be seen from many different angles as well.

This is where a different technique has to be used which is 3D tracking.  Like 2D tracking it uses points on the screen to work out how things are moving. But unlike 2D trackers it triangulates  using special algorithms to work out things like the Z depth of where things are in the scene. Although a lot of 3D trackers have automated settings, these usually only work on simple scenes. If a scene has a lot going on, with a lot of camera movement, it’s sometimes necessary to give the tracker more information, for example the focal length of the camera.  Sometimes you’ll see on the making of movies little markers, especially on green screen sets. These markers are a good way of showing the computer points to lock onto.  3D tracking is a real art in itself and something that can take many attempts to get a good result.

To track Matt’s head, I imported a 3D mesh that was similar to his head and scaled it to fit the real footage. The 3D tracker could use this as a way of marking where it needed to be in the footage.  You can see this in the video below.  Excuse the “Demo mode” I only have a demo version of the capture software

Now that I had the information I could map the real footage onto the 3D mesh and add a 3D knife. Below is an image of the 3D knife un-textured.

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It was then simply a case of animating the knife going into the 3D head.  I added lights that looked about right to where they would of been in the real set and also added shaders to the knife so it looked like its real life counterpart. Shaders are a way of telling the computer what material an object is made of, basically how it will react with light. So in this case it was a stainless steel knife so needed to be very reflective.

The last thing I needed to do was to add a trickle of blood that ran down Matt’s forehead. To do this I used some of the fake blood we’d made up for the scenes with Katie and the hat.  In case you’re interested, making fake blood is very easy and involves Syrup, red food dyes and coffee.I might do a blog on that at some point.

I shot various version of this fake blood pouring down a green screen as you can see below

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It was then a case of removing the green and cropping just one trickle of blood.  I used a 2D tracker so that it would stick to the movement of Matt. And as a final touch I used a tool in After Effects to bend it slightly so that it looked like it was following the contours of his face.

The last touch was to add a shadow to the area around the knife.

Here is a clip showing the different layers.

And here is the final result

The other knife shots were achieved in a similar way.  The only other thing worth mentioning is I added a slight blood burst when Kevin gets the knife yanked out of his head. This was a mixture of using stock footage and also a dust hit that I tinted red as I wanted to get that faint spray of blood you’d get if it was real.

So that’s that till next time.

 

Peter

 

 

 

 

 

Mutant rabbit

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I thought I’d show you an insight into the process of building one of the characters from the film, which in some ways is the star of the film, the mutant rabbit.

This post does contain small spoiler so if you haven’t seen the film yet then what are you waiting for? 🙂

You don’t actually get to see much of the rabbit in the film. There were two reason for this. One was simply following one of the golden rules of horror which is, never reveal the monster till the end. A classic example of this is Jaws, it’s more scary because you don’t see the monster till near the end.

And just like Jaws this rule was applied for another simple reason. The rabbit, as in the case with Spielbergs classic, looked like crap and so I had to to think of as many ways not to show it as possible or at least keep it in the dark.

To be fair the model wasn’t terrible although I didn’t have time to study any ref let alone the anatomy of the rabbit so I quickly sculpted a model using a piece of 3D software called Zbrush.

This wasn’t the main issue, the biggest problem was the rig for the rabbit was awful. A rig is the controls that allow you to move the model around, very much like a stringed puppet. I’m not very good at this process, especially when I’ve only got an evening to do it. So the model had a lot of issues when trying to animated in that some of the limbs didn’t move very well and would distort strangely. So I was very limited in what I could do with it. Which is one of the reasons why when you see the silhouetted version of the rabbit jumping out of Ludwik’s head it looks a little strange.

The only other animation you see of the rabbit is when it hops out from under the sofa. Which again I made sure was very subtle and hidden in shadow.

So because of this I thought it worth sharing this video of the rabbit in all it’s ugly glory. I hope you enjoy the time lapse videos. I think in total it took about 4 – 5 hours to create the model.

Let me know if you enjoy these sort of behind the scene vids and I’ll post more.

Till next time,

Peter

Need a crowd for your film but don’t have enough extras? Fake it!

Hello everyone.

I thought today I’d do a little tutorial on how to use VFX to add crowds or in this case audiences to your scenes.

For The Great Spielron we had certain shots whereby The Great Spielron is performing on stage.  Although a lot of the shots we kept tight to avoid having to show an audience. We did feel that for some shots, especially the establishing shot needed some sort of audience.

Now because of the nature of these shorts there is really no time to plan out shots beforehand. All I knew was that I was going to have to somehow make the hall we were using look full to the brim with an audience.

There are three ways I could think of off the top of my head that could achieve this.

The first was to get around 40 extras to fill the front rows of the hall.  This wasn’t going to be possible due to the fact we’d had three days to find all the actors and with such a short deadline there was no way we could get everyone together in time. Plus it’s set in the 1920’s so to find enough costumes would of been a nightmare.

Another option would be to use a computer generated crowd. There’s a few pieces of software that can do this very well but they cost a lot of money and also take some time to learn.  Plus you still have to animate your crowd and render them which also takes up valuable time.

So the third option and one that I was a little skeptical about was to shoot the few people we did have against green screen.

This was the option we went with.

So lets have a look at the original plate without any of the crowd.

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And here is the finished shot

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Now we only had about five people to act as crowd, this actually included our main actor as well, we just put some different clothes on him.  Because the atmosphere is so dim I knew we could get away with a lot.

I took a number of different shots, each time with two actors sitting next to each other like this.

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We would get them to perform certain actions like laughing, clapping or talking to each other. Then we would get the next group to sit there.

We also shot some from the front as I knew I needed some close ups of the audience laughing or talking to each other.

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I then took the different shots I had into a program called After Effects. This program allows me to take out the green background, very similar to rotoscoping which I talked about here https://22dayslater.com/2014/01/11/behind-the-scenes-of-episode-2-part-3/

So once I’d cut them out they looked like this

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It was then simply a case of shrinking them down and positioning them somewhere on the screen where it looked like they were sitting in front of the stage.

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But as you can see they still look a little like cardboard cutouts.  So now I had to add some colour correction which involved darkening them down to fit more with their surroundings.

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The next step was to add the other crowd members. In total I only had 5 people.  We were also very short on time as we were doing this on the last day and still had to shoot two scenes. All this in one evening!!!

So I quickly got them to swap about and change hats, things that would just break up the silhouettes bit.

Once I’d duplicated all of the characters I had something that looked a little like this. Although this is pre-colour treatment.

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So the final element was to add it all together.  I also added some atmospheric effects like subtle smoke to blend the two elements together.

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It’s surprising what you can get away with when using this technique. It’s used a lot in films to fill the background with people.  Even in the latest blockbusters like Star Trek Into The Darkness and the latest Avenger film.

It gets slightly more complicated if it’s a moving shot but if the crowd are far enough away you can get away with shooting the crowd using a static camera and overlay them onto the moving camera. For example an army running in the distance over hills. If you have excess to motion control cameras then you can replicate the camera movement exactly but that’s out of reach for most of us.

So next time you need a few extras give this technique a go.

Till next time!

Peter

Shooting tomorrow!

Hello all,

I can’t believe another week has passed since out last shoot! Time really is flying past.

If you haven’t seen the teaser scene yet then please take a look at the previous post.

So tomorrow night we’re shooting again. This time it involves four of the main characters so should hopefully be fun to work with the dialogue in the piece.

We’ve only got the location for around 5 – 6 hours tomorrow so we’re going to have to move fast with the shots.  I try to block out some of the key shots I would like using storyboards and now having been at the location it makes this process slightly easier. But I find that no matter how much I think a shot should work there are many times when you’re on set you realise that you have to change how you visualized the shot.  It’s always a bit scary doing this but also very rewarding when it works well.

Another little tip of the day. When filming a shot never call cut when you think the shot should end. Let it role for at least another 5 seconds.  You’ll be surprised how many times in the edit you’d wished that you’d just left it rolling a little longer to achieve a certain emotion within the scene. Or there might be something one of the actors does after that is ideal as a cut away reaction.

A prime example of the former was on last Fridays shoot.  There’s a shot where the caretaker runs out the door and the policeman is left standing on his own in this big empty space.

In the original script I had envisioned the caretaker running out and the policeman getting straight on his radio. So as soon as the caretaker had ran out I called cut.

In the edit I realised I shouldn’t have done this as there is a great moment where the policeman is left standing on his own, It’s a wide shot so really shows his vulnerability. The big old doors slam shut and echo.  Now if I’d left this scene to run longer it would of added some great spooky atmosphere as the echo subsided. As it was you hear call cut and everyone relaxes.

I had to do a bit of image manipulation to extend the shot as long as I could but it’s still not as long as I’d of liked. If only I’d held the shot those extra 5 seconds it would of been perfect.

So remember don’t cut when the shot ends, let it run on a bit.

And for visual entertainment here are some gruesome pictures of some of the limbs.

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Our Sound man Scott got drunk and fell over legless.

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Oh no,  I meant ARMLESS, HO HO HO!

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Also worth noting is the decorating pole. I did actually have a Rode boompole once but left it on a train.To be honest the decorating pile is working out quite well

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Note the clock on the wall. I had to adjust this in post for a lot the shots.

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Lots to come

Hey everyone.

So our first ever 22 days later films is now complete and we’re already half way through our premiere week of release.  Thanks so far to everyone who’s commented on the video, we really appreciate your input.

So I thought the rest of this week I will post a blog a day on behind the scenes kind of stuff. I think I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that due to the intense nature of making our first film, we really didn’t have much time to actually do many blogs or behind the scene photos.

So here are a few that we did manage to grab.  These were on the first day of shooting which was a Sunday.  We were doing the scenes in the woods where Marget the Lollipop lady is crossing the common.   The photo with the mini dolly in was actually cut from the film as we felt the whole scene dragged to much. Which is a shame really as it was a nice shot but story and pace should always come first and so it had to go.ImageImage

 

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These are actually the last of the photos I’m afraid and a little blurred.  But we do have lots of other goodies. We’re going to release a lot of bloopers and the whole sequence we shot for the Kids TV show which I have to say was really good fun to make. Plus some of the techniques we used to get sounds and other tips and tricks
So stay tuned as things gather pace.

Shorty

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The first 22 days later costume malfunction.

We had Stuart to act as a stand in for our villain. Unfortunately the “trouser” I’d picked up earlier ready for the shoot, weren’t quite as they first appeared.

The First “22 Days Later Is Up”

The Prop – Ice Cream

The Costume – Lollipop Lady

The Line/Phrase – No Theo No… you don’t have opposable thumbs and the cleft ratchet is a poor mans tool

Send us your Prop, Costume and Line/Phrase for our next 22 Days Later.